How Greta became the ‘enemy of Turks’

Levent Kenez


Sixteen-year-old Greta Thunberg from Sweden, an internationally recognized environmental activist on climate change, was in the spotlight during the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) sessions last week, delivering an emotional speech and demanding that world leaders take urgent action on climate change.

Not everybody was happy about Greta’s efforts for a cleaner and safer planet for all. She was greeted by a global wave of misinformation and mockery combined with hate. Her point of view, family, network, Asperger’s Syndrome diagnosis and even her Swedishness became objects of derision and debate worldwide.

Turkish journalists and social media users, of course, were no exception. However, there was a specific reason for those who support the government to target her. Greta, who had been portrayed as a sympathetic and respected young woman by the vast majority of the Turkish media before the UNGA sessions in New York City, submitted a legal complaint against five countries including Turkey to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, accusing them of “recklessly causing and perpetuating life-threatening climate change [and] failing to take necessary preventive and precautionary measures to respect, protect, and fulfill the petitioners’ rights.”

“16-year-old girl files complaint against Turkey at UN” dominated the headlines in Turkey, and a campaign to discredit her was kicked off on social and government-controlled mass media immediately afterwards. Many Twitter users — apparently nationalists and supporters of the government — reposted a doctored image of her posing with George Soros, who Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan once described as a famous Hungarian Jew who attempted to overthrow his government in 2013. The original image, in fact, was a photo on Greta’s Instagram account with Al Gore.

Banu Avar, an ultranationalist journalist known for her conspiracy theories and xenophobia, tweeted that the powers behind Greta were Bill Gates and George Soros, referring to the Nya Tider website, the media outlet of a Nazi organization called Nordiska motståndsrörelsen, (Nordic Resistance Movement) in Sweden.

İsmail Kılıçarslan of the pro-government Yeni Şafak daily claimed that Greta Thunberg had surpassed her namesake, world-famous Swedish-American film actress Greta Garbo, in making a splash and posted a chart on carbon emissions showing Turkey was already far behind many developing countries. However Thunberg’s submission to the UN had nothing to do with carbon emissions. Kılıçaraslan also added Greta to a list of people who are allegedly trying to tarnish Turkey’s image at home and abroad.

Melih Altınok, a columnist for the Sabah daily, which is run by the Erdoğan family, accused Greta’s parents of child abuse and described her efforts as a part of a Stockholm-style environmentalism that claims “cow farts” will cause the end of the world.

Mevlüt Tezel of Sabah wrote in his column titled “Project girl, haven’t you found another country to blame?” that Greta, who he described as a polished setup girl, became popular only after US President Donald Trump made fun of her.

Conspiracist and columnist for the same daily Ferhat Ünlü mentioned her in his last column about HAARP (High Frequency Active Auroral Research Program), which was claimed to be a US project to produce weapons that trigger earthquakes, writing “… those who made a child who reportedly has Asperger’s Syndrome speak at the UN on the condition of accusing Turkey and similar countries hesitate to discuss HAARP.”

No doubt, the most extreme reaction came from a politician, namely, Aydoğan Ahıakın, head of the governing Justice and Development Party (AKP) branch in Kadıköy, one the biggest districts in İstanbul. Ahıakın tweeted that “the Kadıköy Municipality, run by [the main opposition Republican People’s Party] CHP, painted a mural of Greta Thunberg, who officially filed a complaint against Turkey at the United Nations. The mayor [Şerdil Dara Odabaşı] must put an end to this mural scandal of the girl who is the enemy of Turks!” Ahıakın did not forget to mention Turkey’s Interior Ministry, which supervises municipalities in Turkey. The ministry recently removed several mayors in prominent Kurdish cities.

Journalist and television host Ahmet Hakan Coşkun, who works for the pro-government Hürriyet daily and disreputable CNN-Türk, wrote in his column that he found Greta so unnatural, he simply was unable to develop a good feeling for her. Calling her a poseur and crabby, Çoşkun likened her to children who went crazy while reading epic poems.

Meanwhile, there are those who discredit and oppose Greta ideologically as well. Hüseyin Vodinalı, a columnist for Aydınlık, the media outlet of Turkey’s neo-nationalist Homeland Party, said that “capitalism is hiding behind Greta.” Accusing her of roleplaying, Vodinalı wrote that global finance barons representing $118 trillion were using a small girl as a screen. Vodinalı also claimed that Greta’s mother, father and grandfather were all actors (which is not true) and that that was why her acting was so realistic.

One of the doctored images widely circulated by Turkish Twitter users who criticized Thunberg.

Gaffar Yakınca, another Aydınlık columnist, wrote two pieces on Greta. Yakınca portayed Greta as the new face of imperialism. Referring to her Asperger’s Syndrome, Yakınca claimed she had been dismayed by disaster scenarios since she was 8, adding that as an abused child she had fallen under the responsibility of Sweden’s ministry of social affairs.

In his second column Yakınca likened Greta to Private Ryan, the main character of the movie “Saving Private Ryan,” which tells the story of a mentally ill American soldier who was rescued by the US Army during wartime. Yakınca claims that Greta is the last member of the same army.

Greta’s peers were also hardhearted. The Union of High School Students, an organization affiliated with the Homeland Party, issued a statement accusing the West of using the old tactic of sending children to the fight first. Despite a note stating that Greta was not their addressee but rather her global masters, it is full of defamation and humiliation of the young activist.

It would be incorrect to say that only pro-government journalists and ultranationalists were trying to defame the 16-year-old activist. For instance, Cem Toker, the former chairman of Turkey’s Liberal Party, wrote on his Twitter account in response to a user who expressed support for Greta, “Let’s cut off the electricity, natural gas and Internet at her house in Stockholm, take away her smart phone, then watch her vignette full of mimicry that she rehearses in front of a mirror.”

Greta continues to travel the world. Turkey would be an amazing destination for her, departing from Stockholm, sailing the Mediterranean on a zero carbon yacht, meeting with activists whom she previously acknowledged for their protest of a gold mining company. However, it would be wise to postpone it for as long as xenophobia is on the rise in Turkey.

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